Even before Covid-19 struck, several disrupters were changing life and work as we knew it. For instance, the accelerated pace of technology disruption and the rise of nationalism. Globalization seemed to be under threat. Covid-19 has multiplied the uncertainty. Uncertain times can be great for some businesses. And terrible for others.
Some of the biggest innovations and companies have emerged from uncertain periods. For instance, Uber and WhatsApp launched shortly after the 2008 recession. Disney launched in the middle of the Great Depression. The PC game pioneer, Electronic Arts launched during the 1982 recession. The common thread between these winners during uncertainty? Innovation and Creativity. Most winning companies did something different. Often, drastically different.
How do we define what creativity is? Creativity is solving problems or creating new stuff in novel and innovative ways. Uncertain times need new ideas and products. So, getting creative is good for your business. Is being creative as simple as flicking a switch? It isn’t. But it isn’t rocket science either. This article looks 4 tips to improving creativity.
Tip #1: Be messy
Crayons seem to make kids go wild. Give them a pack of crayons and chances are they’ll be colouring everything in sight. While it may seem so, the kids intent isn’t making a mess. Instead, the mess is an outcome of uninhibited curiosity and experimentation. You wouldn’t know how a pink crayon marking would look on a yellow wall without trying, would you? The key to creativity is being uninhibited and curious. And not being afraid to experiment.
Tip #2: Waste time
Remember Archimedes? The scientist who reportedly went running naked in the streets. After realizing the Archimedes principle? Where did inspiration strike? In his bathtub. Many people claim to get inspiration while in the loo. Or while in the shower. The common thread in all these is that you need to be relaxed. And that relaxation doesn’t come when you’re trying to beat the clock. Instead, it comes when you don’t need to keep gazing at the time. So, mulling over ideas is sometimes the best way to ‘slow-cook’ them. Till everything comes together for your Eureka moment.
As Yuval Harari says in a slightly different context. “You need to experiment with unproductive paths, to explore dead ends, to make space for doubts and boredom, and to allow little seeds of insight to slowly grow and blossom. If you cannot afford to waste time- you will never find the truth.”.
Tip #3: Keep questioning
Research says that at age 5, children ask 120 questions a day. At 6, it goes down to 60 questions. And at 40, adults ask just 4 questions a day. Creativity needs a ‘beginners mind’. A mind where we know we don’t have all the answers. And we realize that the only way to learn is by asking enough of the right questions. As the poet Rainer Maria Rilke said, “Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart. And try to love the questions themselves.”
It’s important not to frame questions hastily. And not try to be super-quick in answering them. Often framing the right question is much more difficult than answering it. “Why don’t more people use apps like Skype?” was a question that the WhatsApp founder framed. The answer to the question is the reason why WhatsApp only used your phone number and a sms for sign-up. You see, people kept forgetting their username and password to access Skype. And signing up for the service was cumbersome. The quick WhatsApp signup was a key reason for its meteoric rise.
Tip #4: Gather experience
Steve Jobs once described creativity as connecting the dots. “When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences, or they have thought more about their experiences than other people”. He added that “most people don’t have enough dots to connect because they haven’t had many diverse experiences.”
You need to keep searching for experiences that enrich. That could be a conversation with an interesting person or reading. Just make sure that you aren’t looking for experiences only related to your line of business. Diversity of experiences is important. Granted, this takes time. Yet, the best time to start doing this consciously is now.
Mary Angelou had this to say about creativity- “The important thing is to use it. You can’t use up creativity. The more you use it, the more you have.”.
Think of creativity as a muscle. The more the exercise, the bigger it becomes. And the fuel nourishing the muscle growth is your diverse experiences. Finally, remember that coming up with ideas isn’t enough. If you have ideas but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.
How do you amp up your creativity? Share your tips in the comments!